Test Your Story’s Opening Line– Fiction Writing

I’m taking a masters class through Writers Village and I thought I’d share with you the “secret formula” to your opening lines.

It’s called the Hologram test.  What is the Hologram test?  It’s a golden rule that the first 100 words of your novel be a hologram, a teasing but true sample of the wares to come.

So how can you make sure your story passes this all-important test and wins the hearts of readers?

Here are 3 simple ways:

1.  Locate your story clearly in a genre.  A story that is not easily defined in a genre is typically dismissed LitFic (Literary Fiction).  Yes, LitFic is a genre all on its own.  LitFic should enchant the reader by its power of language or delicacy of perception.  But, if you write a novel that doesn’t fit into a specific genre than you better be a damn fine writer, because not only will you have a difficult time with agents and publishers but with readers, too.  So flaunt your genre quickly in those opening lines.

death noteTell me these two words don’t invoke a visceral response.

2.  Give a teasing glimpse of the plot conflicts in your book.  If your story fails to quickly introduce conflict it’s either LitFic or a bad story.  Conflict is the lifeblood of your story so start the stakes right out of the chute.  Let two or more characters be in conflict immediately before readers turn to page two.  Or, your protagonist in conflict with themselves, or external forces.  Shake up the readers adrenaline!  Get their blood pumping!  Their eyes wide on the page before them!  You can do this with narrative or dialogue.  Sometimes dialogue is an easy way to kick-start the conflict, foreshadowing events to come.  Put your indispensable statement in the first scene.  An event, a revealing passage of characterization, dialogue, setting, or a provocative assertion by the narrator.  Without it, your story doesn’t get going.

found the guy

3.  Enchant the reader with your style.  Flaunt your style of writing– your voice– in the first paragraph.  The restraint and balance of those lines tells the reader they’re in good hands.  Don’t disappoint them with… “It was a dark and stormy night.”  When a reader has invested their time and money it is your duty to repay it.  You do that by enthralling them with your words.  Enchanting them with your hook.  Intriguing them with the story question you raise.  And don’t forget to end your story well, too.  No one will buy the sequel, if there is one, if you don’t end the first book well.  One way to do that is to leave one unanswered question.  Not a plot hole, just one teasingly tantalizing question that makes them want to buy book two.


What are some of the ways you like to begin your stories?  I would love to read the opening lines of either your work in progress or your most recent novel.  Leave me the first couple of lines in the comment section and get opinions from future readers!  It’s a great way to judge if you’ve done it well.  Don’t include the genre.  Let us guess to see how well you’ve done.

To kick it off, here are the opening lines from my newest novel Silent Betrayal

The still silence of the night is my addiction. There’s no better drug on earth. It’s an incredible feeling to know I’m the only one awake. The only person stirring among peaceful, darkened homes. Alone in the dark I am free. Alive. Invincible. Nothing can touch me.

15 thoughts on “Test Your Story’s Opening Line– Fiction Writing

  1. How about this from my novel-in-progress, THE GUNS OF MIAMI:

    I awoke in my sweaty hotel room in the middle of the night. Pushing back the sleep, my mind and senses sluggishly moved into gear.

    The shabby air unit hummed uncertainly and hadn’t cooled things down any. Musty odors filled my nostrils, and noises drifted into the room from the restless city.


  2. I love that! I’m going out on a limb here because I don’t usually share, but my husband and I are having a debate. I want to start my novel off with a line or two that explain what’s going on in Richard’s head. Just a couple, but my husband wants me to leave this alone. I think it’s loose.

    Already running late for an appointment in Winter Park, Richard drove the little Mercedes AMG SLK convertible north on Orange Avenue. Between lights, he skillfully navigated lanes through moderate nighttime traffic. As he approached Michigan Avenue coming into Orlando proper, two figures came darting across the road from his left. He swerved and slammed on the brakes to avoid striking them. Tires squealed as he stopped in the middle lane. They stood like deer in the headlights, a woman and a girl. The tall lady struck the hood of the car hard with a hand that held a pair of stiletto heels. A transfer truck passed to the left blowing the horn, rolling like thunder. The lady jumped, grabbing the smaller one close.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you’ve definitely caught my interest. As far as your genre goes, I’m guessing romance or mystery. If you’re asking my opinion, I think a couple of lines about what Richard’s thinking would be very intriguing.


      • “There was only one thing worse for business than not solving the case, and that was keeping a new client waiting.” What about this as a lead in sentence? It conveys that he’s thinking about his business. He’s solving cases, and he’s concerned about first impressions.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I was exhausted when I read your new opening so I’m replying again. These new lines also make me wonder… Is there a case he didn’t solve? Which raises a story question immediately. Awesome!


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